MacIver Institute to Push for Fiscal Responsibility in Wisconsin State Capitol

November 5, 2010

Free Market Think Tank Releases the “MacIver Principles to Guide Wisconsin’s Budget”

[Madison, Wisc…] The Free Market Voice for Wisconsin has unveiled their framework to repair Wisconsin’s broken budget.

On Friday, the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy released their “MacIver Principles to Guide Wisconsin’s Budget,” a series of policy and process reforms to restore fiscal sanity in Madison.

“Wisconsin is at a crossroads–the government simply is too large, it spends too much and tries to do too much,” said Brett Healy, President of the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy. “Moreover the process by which our state budget is crafted is fundamentally flawed and facilitates fiscal malpractice. Now is the time to make the necessary changes in both the process and the product.”

The MacIver Principles lay out a reform agenda Healy says must be implemented, immediately, if Wisconsin is to avoid the fiscal meltdown that is looming.

“These principles should serve as a guide for the new Governor and new Legislature who have an historic opportunity and obligation to, quite frankly, fix this mess,” said Healy. “We understand that the recklessness of the Doyle Administration and previous legislatures have left our state finances in such disarray that it will take time to repair; however, it is imperative that the reclamation process begin immediately.”

The MacIver Principles to Guide Wisconsin’s Budget

Spending must be restrained

The next biennial budget should spend less, tax less and bond less than the current budget, period.

Immediately freeze state spending and hiring

Do not wait until the next State Budget to begin to restore fiscal sanity. Until the newly elected Governor and the next Legislature decide what Wisconsin’s spending priorities are, all nonessential spending should be put on hold. Governor Doyle’s secret deal he signed the weekend before the election to obligate taxpayers to build the $810 million not-so-high-speed rail line, a luxury we simply cannot afford during these harsh economic times, should be immediately rescinded. The DNR’s request currently before the Joint Finance Committee to spend $7.9 million for land purchases should be objected to so that it can be considered as part of the larger 2011 – 2013 budget discussion next year. It is just common sense that until we have a plan to get Wisconsin out of debt and back on the road to recovery, new government spending should be put on hold.

Employ honest budgeting

Let’s start over and build a budget from the ground up, using zero-based budgeting. No more cost-to-continue budgeting (take last year’s budget, add in 3-5% more spending without justification or thought) that naturally leads to bigger government. Every two years, state agencies should be forced to prove that each program is vital to the well-being of Wisconsin’s citizens and is operating effectively. The creation of new segregated funds should be prohibited, and existing segregated funds should not be raided for uses other than those for which they were intended.

Prioritize needs over wants

State government must only take on those functions that cannot be accomplished by an individual or any other entity. Now is the time to rethink the role and scope of government.

Stop being a social services magnet

Even if stories of day care providers scamming the system by collecting taxpayers’ cash for caring for imaginary kids didn’t make headlines, this area would be ripe for reform. We must aggressively punish those who abuse the good graces of Wisconsin’s taxpayers. Further, eligibility for our state’s entitlement programs should be scaled back to where they are no more generous than the federal requirements and should include time limits/lifetime maximums where possible.

Pursue privatization when cost-effective

The costs of providing compensation and benefits for public employees and retirees are a ticking fiscal time bomb. We can no longer afford to pay for state employees to provide janitorial services, food service and a whole host of jobs that the private sector could provide at a better value. In many cases the private sector can deliver cost savings, innovation and exercise the ability to adapt to meet changing needs in the way unionized public employees cannot.

Demand equal treatment for all

The days of budget pork, carve outs or tax incentives for a select few should end. The tax code should be simplified, not re-favoritized. We don’t want to see any earmarks in the next State Budget, which are added solely to secure enough votes for the plan’s passage. No more garbage cans for Wrightstown or bonding for opera houses in Oshkosh.

Scale back the taxing authorities

Consolidation should be incentivized and non-elected boards should be stripped of their ability to tax. The best government is that which is closest to its citizens.

Eliminate unfunded mandates

If a level of government determines that a spending program is beneficial to all of its citizens, that level of government should pay for the entire cost of the program. No more passing the buck down the line. It’s time to empower a Mandate Review Commission, which includes the public and the private sector, to determine the scope and costs of all mandates imposed on local units of government by the state.

Conduct a bureaucratic purge

While the legislature passes new laws, the regulations that guide their implementation often exceed legislative intent. To combat this, every single current administrative rule should sunset by years end and require re-authorization. Any new rules promulgated from now on should be accompanied by an honest cost-benefit analysis and require reauthorization every three years.

Embrace transparency

No more secret budget deals. Once submitted by the Governor, the Legislature should address the plan and make any modifications in public, in the light of day. Every amendment should have an author who is willing to stand behind the proposal and defend its inclusion in the state budget.